For those in search of once-in-a-lifetime memories forged on the roads less travelled, we’ve compiled the new Australian bucket list: a collection of extraordinary destinations, unique escapes and luxurious stays that’ll supply bragging rights every bit as enviable as Australia’s bucket-list big hitters.
Image credit: Visit Victoria
Be transported at Cactus Country, VIC1/26
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was in the middle of the Arizona desert. But Cactus Country is a succulent-strewn garden hidden three hours north of Melbourne and as the name attests, there’s a bumper crowd of cacti here, best explored after a bowl of nachos at the on-site Mexican eatery. You can bunk here overnight, so bookmark a stay during desert flower season (between October and November) and the after-sunset ‘Fright Fest’ on Halloween, when the night sky is the only guiding light in the prickly plot.
Image credit: @aeroture_au/Tourism Western Australia
Break away from the bustle in Bremer Bay, WA2/26
Travellers who take the five-and-a-half hour drive south-east of Perth will land in Bremer Bay, a coastal hamlet that guarantees an unforgettable getaway. Just 37 kilometres offshore is a fascinating concentration of apex predators (killer whales, giant squids and beaked whales, to name a few), who call a particular underwater canyon home. Hop aboard a daily research boat that runs late January through to April and you might be able to spot a few of them. Back on land, there are towering sand dunes to drive over (or surf down), as well as Fitzgerald River National Park, which brims with wildflowers all year round.
Image credit: Tourism & Events Queensland
Sample farm-to-table dining on the Sunshine Coast, QLD3/26
Don’t count the Sunshine Coast as a food lover’s destination? Count again. The area is a hub for plentiful fresh produce, from the laden trees of tropical fruit farms to juicy Moreton Bay bugs straight from a trawler. Later in 2023, Coolum Beach will also add Barns Lane Farm, a providore spruiking all the spoils from the area’s producers. In the meantime, book a table at Yandina’s Spirit House, a revered local restaurant set in a rainforest.
Image credit: Isaac Forman/South Australia Tourism Commission
Escape to the Eyre Peninsula, SA4/26
After driving a straight and narrow three and a half hours north of Adelaide, you’ll tick over into the triangular tip of the Eyre Peninsula, a hidden gem home to some of the country’s most spectacular spots. You’ll want to bring two things: your swimmers – the beaches here are beyond majestic – and your appetite (this seafood-producing powerhouse accounts for 65 per cent of Australia’s entire catch). For both, the go-to spot is glittering Coffin Bay Oyster Farm, where the Pacific oysters are sinfully creamy and visitors are invited to pluck, shuck and eat them straight from the water.
Image credit: Steve Strike/Tourism Northern Territory
Embrace slow travel in Alice Springs, NT5/26
Our answer to the Orient Express is The Ghan, a mighty rail journey that slices through the heart of the country, chugging from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs and back again. The shorter leg can deliver you to Alice Springs from Adelaide or Darwin in two glorious, scenery-rich days: unwind in style and watch the rust red of the desert galloping past your cabin window.
Image credit: VisitCanberra
Take a tipple trail through the ACT6/26
If you don’t know about Canberra’s booming beverage scene, it’s time you got acquainted. The nation’s capital has a wealth of wineries, breweries and distilleries ready to quench your thirst. Choose your tipple and away you go – gin lovers should stop into Underground Spirits, which uses mineral-dense Snowy Mountain waters for its bottles; whisky enthusiasts should stop by The Canberra Distillery; and oenophiles shouldn’t miss Clonakilla, a family-run vineyard that collects ample critical acclaim, especially for its medium-bodied shiraz.
Image credit: Lean Timms
Hunker down at Sabi, TAS7/26
Visit Japan by way of Tasmania at Sabi, a wabi sabi-styled stone cabin in the north-east’s Binalong Bay boasting cosy minimalist interiors. Every piece of furniture has been purposefully selected for the property to channel the Japanese design concept which celebrates the natural – best exemplified in the reclaimed, copper-lined wooden barrel that’s now an onsen-inspired bath.
Image credit: Jonathan van der Knapp/South Australia Tourism Commission
Put a pin in Págo, SA8/26
A careful reclamation of 170-year-old stables has resulted in Págo, a sleek four-bedroom retreat on the threshold of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The private property: a chic, minimalist farmhouse tucked into a gathering of heritage buildings known as The Mill at Middleton, isn’t far from the area’s big guns, either. It’s about an hour’s drive south of Adelaide, 30 minutes’ drive from McLaren Vale and a leisurely 400 metres to the closest wild beach.
Image credit: S. Group / Tourism Tasmania
Camping in Narawntapu National Park, TAS9/26
Straddling the divot in Tasmania’s north coast, Narawntapu National Park is often overlooked. Characterised by heathland and wide expanses of coast, this wild destination is an off-the-grid experience that even the most well-travelled Tasmanian might have skipped. Overnight camping offers visitors the best chance of having these landscapes all to yourself, and there are four sites within the national park bounds.
Live it up in luxury at The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne, VIC10/26
Six-star luxury lands in Melbourne in 2023 with the arrival of The Ritz-Carlton Melbourne, set to loom 80 storeys high in the CBD’s west. No room resides lower than 65 levels above the city, guaranteeing sweeping views of the city. Guests will have access to a sky-high heated infinity pool, a library-style drinking den and a fine-dining restaurant.
Switch off at Cape Otway’s Sky Pods, VIC11/26
It’s a familiar story: take a tiny house and drop it in an off-grid location. Sky Pods are a little different, however, being stationed on land registered as a wildlife refuge that’s also within driving distance of some of the most impressive coastal landscapes in the country (the Great Ocean Road? Yeah, it’s just next door). Staying in is a similarly attractive prospect, with a projector screen and Bose speakers for the cosiest in-room movie experience you’ll ever have.
Image credit: Enter Via Laundry
Dine in seclusion at Enter Via Laundry, VIC12/26
Although the relocated Enter Via Laundry is no longer a restaurant in chef Helly Raichura’s living room (with an entrance through her laundry, of course), the spirit of this very Melbourne eatery remains. With space for just 20 diners, the Carlton North diner serves up a degustation of around 11 courses focusing on regional Indian fare (the February to May menu will spotlight Goan cuisine). A celebration as much as a meal, the experience is rich, with communal tables and vibrant flavours that take diners on a gastronomic journey through Raichura’s cultural heritage.
Image credit: Destination NSW
Tackle the new Gondwana Rainforests Walk, NSW13/26
Grab your hiking boots: a new multi-day hike is on its way. The Dorrigo Escarpment Great Walk on Gumbaynggirr land, is set to transform the Northern Tablelands with a four-day route that leads over suspension bridges and to rest huts, amid the lush Gondwana Rainforests of the Mid-North Coast. The heart of the project is the Arc Rainforest Centre, a hub for visitors anchored by a curl of open-air boardwalk.
Relish the restaurant boom in Newcastle, NSW14/26
This seaside city has had a gastronomy glow-up since you last stopped in. Take this new restaurant roster as your cue to book a trip: there’s the pan-Asian, Palm-Springs-inspired Light Years, the humble, hearty Humbug and its rich Italian dishes and the welcoming wine-bar feel of Flotilla have all opened their doors in Newcastle in 2022. Once you’ve eaten your fill, recline at QT Newcastle, a glamorous outpost with a coastal twist.
Image credit: Alan Jensen
Tuck into the Asado Fire Feast at Osborn House, NSW15/26
Bundanoon’s country-club-esque Osborn House isn’t just for Sundays spent lazing around a lounge room fireplace (although that pastime is particularly popular, too). On weekends between April and November, the garden comes alive with the scent of wood smoke at the Sunday Fire Feast, an open-air barbecue experience facilitated by Francis Mallman protégé Segundo Farrell. Said feast includes an array of charred meats, salads and veg served up buffet style, with a glass of perfectly paired rose.
Image credit: Jonathan van der Knapp/South Australia Tourism Commission
Take a load off at Timba Rtreet, SA16/26
A country hideaway that can be exclusively booked, the Fleurieu Peninsula’s four-bed, three-bath Timba Rtreet is a private paradise in a peaceful country setting less than an hour’s drive south of Adelaide. The luxurious bush retreat (get it?) is set on 40 hectares of gum-tree-laden land and the rolling hills are best admired from the expansive, freshwater pool or the Japanese cedar soaking tub.
Image credit: Cooinda Lodge
Get a forkful of a Full Moon Feast in Kakadu National Park, NT17/26
Food foraged from the land. A journey through First Nations history and storytelling. The glittering night sky. This is Cooinda Lodge’s Full Moon Feast, an enchanting evening celebrating seasonal Kunumelleng bush tucker and the culture of the local Murumburr clan, about three hours’ drive east of Darwin. It’s an important intersection of food, culture and the land; a truly immersive experience that celebrates all three with both reverence and fun.
Image credit: Richard Lyons
Find peace at Finniss River Lodge, NT18/26
The newest addition to the Top End’s offering of topnotch accommodation, Finniss River Lodge in the wetlands of Rakula near the Northern Territory’s Dundee Beach has just six suites, reserving the remote country just for its lucky visitors. Nature is of course the hero here (although the daily menu of locally sourced barramundi, mud crab and mangoes isn’t too shabby, either). Set on wild wetlands, there’s plenty to see just by stepping outside, but the 50-minute airboat ride among saltwater crocodile territory – free for guests who stay three nights or more – is a clear frontrunner.
Image credit: Tourism Western Australia
Swim with whale sharks in Exmouth, WA19/26
Floating alongside these gentle giants on Ningaloo Reef is an enduring bucket-list activity for good reason: it’s one of the few places around the world you can do it. Between March and July, hundreds of these stunning (and enormous – up to 18 metres long) creatures bob into the bay of the reef, just off Exmouth, to feed, giving visitors an excellent chance to get up close. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and competitive bookings reflect that – make sure to reserve your spot well in advance.
Dive into Alba Thermal Springs, VIC20/26
Welcome to the ultimate wellness retreat. Harnessing the restorative power of the geothermal waters of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Alba Thermal Springs has over 30 open-air pools for guests to plunge into, from herbal-infused botanical waters to the naturally heated baths that can reach up to 43℃, thanks to the warming power of underground aquifers. Guests can also make a day of it, with packages that loop in spa treatments and meals at Thyme, the on-site eatery dishing up seasonal, locally-sourced produce.
Image credit: Tourism & Events Queensland
Experience the ancient Mossman Gorge, QLD21/26
Winding through the World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park, the pristine waters of Mossman Gorge are dotted with ancient granite boulders and fringed by lush rainforest. The sacred land of local Kuku Yalanji people, the area and its people have centuries of stories to tell and although you can take a self-guided tour of the tranquil area (20 minutes north of Port Douglas), we recommend exploring this tranquil wilderness with Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks, who’ll guide you through culturally significant sites and welcome you to country with a traditional smoking ceremony.
Image credit: Dave Hancock/Tourism Western Australia
Tour the Buccaneer Archipelago, WA22/26
More than 1000 islands string together to form WA’s Buccaneer Archipelago, a remote cluster of unrivalled beauty off the coast of the Kimberley town of Derby. Those desert island dreams are here in spades: glass-clear water, icing-sugar sand and a discernible lack of crowds – the only residents of some of these tiny atolls are the crooked mangroves. Cruise company Kimberley Quest takes a four-day spin through the area, pulling into otherwise unreachable beaches, as well as the one-of-a-kind Horizontal Falls and Montgomery Reef.
Live life in colour at the vibrant W Hotel Sydney23/26
During its five-year construction, the fantastical façade of the building dubbed “The Ribbon”, overlooking Darling Harbour, was a mysterious sight. Now, the wonders within the new W Hotel Sydney have been revealed, proving the old adage that good things come to those who wait. The latest addition to Sydney’s glut of five-star stays is a riot of colour, playful interiors, intriguing restaurants and bars, and of course, outstanding hospitality. With an aesthetic that trips the light fantastic between Willy Wonka and Star Wars, it's a property unlike any other in the Harbour City.
Discover understated opulence at Capella Sydney24/26
With interiors filled with art, books and history, Capella Sydney – the international hotel brand’s first Australian outpost – feels more like a luxury home than a hotel. And with the in-house Auriga Spa, a high-tech gym, 20-metre indoor lap pool and one of the best restaurants in the city, Brasserie 1930, there are few reasons to ever venture beyond its walls. This stellar 192 room property, built inside the historic former Department of Agriculture and Department of Education buildings on Loftus Street, ranks as one of the finest hotels in a city bursting with five-star stays.
Image credit: Marcus Ravik
Dare to Dine at Vertigo in Brisbane25/26
Australia’s first “vertical restaurant”, which can be found perched on the side of the Brisbane Powerhouse’s century-old façade, is a simple yet surreal concept: a fine-diner without a floor, where the guests sit at tables suspended in thin air, 17 metres up. Pairing adrenaline-fueled thrills with haute cuisine, a meal here is quite unlike anything else you can find on our shores – not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.
Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto